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Author Manuel Muñoz hosts reading at CU Denver

Photo // Joanna Luloff

4th Annual Jake Adam York Memorial Reading

Short fiction writer and novelist Manuel Muñoz was the latest guest to helm the Jake Adam York Memorial Reading, an event held every spring to honor the legacy of CU Denver English professor York since his unexpected passing in 2012.

Muñoz, like York, uses his craft to engage with the biting edges of contemporary sociopolitical issues. As Muñoz’s characters navigate places of divide—the scope of which ranges from nuclear families to institutionalized linguistic and economic barriers—his award-winning prose is saturated with unflinching authenticity. The work contained in his books, Zigzagger and The Faith Healer of Olive Avenue, is not an attempt to make art political, but rather a stunningly composed testament to how inextricable the personal and the political truly are. On March 1, Muñoz read a story from his forthcoming collection to an assembly of CU Denver students and faculty before participating in a Q&A with the same complex sentimentality that is present throughout his written career.

“Manuel pits us against ourselves,” recent CU Denver alum Joseph Carrillo said as he introduced Muñoz’s reading, and true to form, the visiting author opened his time at the podium with an emotional homage to York’s life.

“I’m never nervous at readings,” Muñoz said as he recounted his and York’s experiences at their alma mater, Cornell University. “[But his passing away] makes me think about getting to the time in life when we lose people.”

After sharing a piece of short fiction—which attempted to disentangle the conflict between how life is remembered versus how it actually is through the perspective of a young child—Muñoz answered questions provided by the audience.

“I’ve struggled with this for a long time—should I write about certain kinds of violence?” Muñoz said in response to a question about a perceived authorial responsibility to correct harmful misconceptions about minorities. “I recognize some of the stereotypes, but on the other hand, I have people in my family who have spent a good amount of time in jail. Those experiences are part of the fabric of who I am. People may think I’m writing a stereotypical character, but it’s another truth, and there are galaxies of story in those truths. That’s too important to lose.”

Many of Muñoz answers—and much of his published work—were deeply invested in the conceit of truth and how fiction can excavate it in an accessible way. “‘She did not have the English, so she was not allowed to understand,’” Muñoz read from his upcoming publication. But he is already looking to subvert the arc of that narrative. “I’m playing with the idea of having my mother speak entirely in Spanish without context,” he said. “What is that going to mean for a reader to hear the truth from that language?”

The Sentry followed up with Muñoz after the reading to revisit this idea. What happens when the truth is hard, or even dangerous? What if the words can’t be found? “Each of us has the power to determine both what we write and what we read,” Muñoz said. “[Writers] can be self-centered and think most about what we are producing and how that might change.  But it is equally important to think of how we participate as listeners or observers. There are already writers and artists who have long considered how cultural and social forces affect their communities. Have we been supporting them?  Can we start now?”

Taylor Kirby
Taylor Kirby

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